Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Cinderella Man”

Of all the archetypal character traits used in films, the “underdog” is most frequently used in sports films and biopics. I feel there is some kind of special connection we each share with people of humble origin or background who, through sheer determination and grit, go on to achieve greatness.  The interesting thing about underdogs who rise to be champions in the world of professional boxing is that one punch delivered from an upstart, a has-been, or a nobody can instantly elevate their career soaring to the top.

I feel Cinderella Man is a film that embodies just that. It was released in 2005 and directed by Ron Howard. Cinderella Man tells the harrowing true story of James J. Braddock. The film begins with James (played by Russel Crowe) having to give up boxing due to a broken right hand and a fairly unimpressive record. Soon after this, the United States finds itself gripped in the Great Depression. James grows depressed that he can’t provide more for his wife and children due to his injuries. He takes up part time work as a longshoreman yet his work isn’t steady. James is ashamed when forced to ask for charity and government assisted welfare. His wife, Mae Braddock (played by Rene Zellweger), is worried what will happen if James takes up boxing again. She fears he could be killed and leave her a widow left to raise her children alone.

However, fate steps in when James’s longtime former couch and friend Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) shows up with an offer for James to participate in a last minute fight.  With no alternatives and the fear of being unable to feed his family, James agrees and, to everyone’s surprise, he knocks out the # 2 contender in the world. This shakes up the boxing world, and James Braddock is soon thought of as an inspiring hero to the working class. He is given the nickname “Cinderella Man” by a local sports writer.

As James continues to win and progress it becomes clear that he will have the opportunity to face off against the heavy weight champion of the world, Max Baer (played by Craig Bierko). Baer is feared throughout the boxing world for having killed his last two opponents. But James Braddock is undeterred, much to the horror of his wife Mae. As the fight approaches, he is a 10-1 underdog against the world champion. The film then reaches its fever pitch climax as the whole city of New York listens in on the radio as the two battle it out in Madison Square Garden.

This is a great film and I always find myself watching it whenever I find it on television. Luckily, Cinderella Man is available at the Union University Library for rent. It is rated PG-13 for violence related to boxing and some mild language.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Denial”

This past Sunday, January 27th, was the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  I found the film Denial, which confronts the horrors of the Holocaust, particularly moving and relevant for today’s audiences.

 Denial is based on Deborah Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier.  The movie begins in 1994 with Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust professor played by Rachel Weisz, giving a lecture in an American university.  Suddenly, she is ambushed by Nazi Historian David Irving (played by Timothy Stall) who scolds her in public, accusing her of slander and libelous conduct when she identified him as a Holocaust denier in her latest book. He then proceeds to sue her and her publisher Penguin Books in libel lawsuit.

What makes this case so fascinating and perilous is that, under the United Kingdom’s laws, if someone thinks that what you wrote about them is either defamatory or damaging, the responsibility will be entirely on you to prove that your comments are true in court. In other words, if you make the claim, you’ve got to prove it! So Deborah Lipstadt must then prove in court that David Irving is a Holocaust denier. Her council and lawyers fear that David Irving is seeking to put the entire Holocaust on trial to further his ambition and fame. In Deborah’s corner, she is joined by famous solicitor Anthony Julius (portrayed by Andrew Scott) who represented the late Princess Diana in her divorce case. Her barrister is that of Richard Rampton who is famous for dealing with libel cases; he is played by Tom Wilkinson.

Throughout the course of the trial there are many ups and downs. For example, David Irving chooses to represent himself and proves to be a formidable adversary who is quick to use legal mechanisms to his advantage. While Deborah and her team travel all the way to Auschwitz Concentration Camp to find evidence to destroy Irving’s claims. Towards the end of the film it feels as if the judge’s decision could go either way and it definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat.

 

*This film is rated PG-13 for Language and it is available at the Union University Library.

 

Personal note: Denial came to my attention last year, and it became an instant favorite for me. Allow me to share a little bit of my background and studies in an attempt to explain why this film left such an impression on your humble writer. Last year I graduated with my bachelor’s degree which I built myself around History and Political Science. I’ve always loved history; I also enjoy trying to understand how and why it happened the way it did. So having some political insight is very useful to understanding history in context.  My grandfather served in WW2 and that too also sparked my curiosity and interest in Denial.

When my grandfather passed away a few years back, my family and I were cleaning out some of his drawers and discovered several items dating back to his days in the service. Of all the things I found among his belongs, two things struck me to my core. Late in the war he served as a jeep driver for high ranking officers and generals. In doing his duty he personally drove U.S military commanders to various Death Camps and witnessed the horrific aftermath that the Nazis left in their attempts at the final solution.

What I found in my grandfather’s possessions were two grainy photos showing piles of human remains stacked well over six feet in the air. It was something I will never be able to forget, and I know it left a lasting impression on my grandfather. It is truly frightening what humans are capable of doing to one another. That is why we can never forget what happened and why we should always call out the truly insidious individuals that attempt to downplay or outright deny the atrocities of the Holocaust.